Layer-by-layer 3D selective silicon deposition could cut micro- and nanomanufacturing costs

June 26, 2012 // By Julien Happich
Researchers at KTH Microsystem Technology hope to bring mass innovation capabilities to smaller companies and markets with a new approach to MEMS manufacturing, akin to 3D printing.

Production of silicon micro- and nano-sensors such as MEMSs with today's technologies requires a full-scale clean-room laboratory costing millions of euros – facilities that few organisations can afford. Researchers at KTH Microsystem Technology have demonstrated a manufacturing concept that could pave the way toward simple, inexpensive “printing” of 3D silicon structures. The new manufacturing technology consists of a layer-by-layer process for defining 3D patterns in silicon, using focused ion beam writing followed by silicon deposition. The layered 3D silicon structures are defined by repeating these two steps over and over, followed by a final etching step in which the excess silicon material is dissolved away. The researchers note, however, that the system has so far only been tested manually on relatively simple structures, and that more development lies ahead to implement the concept in a manufacturing tool called a 3D printer.

“In a future manufacturing process, the structure would first be designed in a 3D drawing programme. The drawing is then sent to a 3D printer that recreates the structure in silicon, layer by layer from the bottom up,” explains Frank Niklaus, Associate Professor at KTH Microsystem Technology.

In 2011, Frank Niklaus received a grant of EUR 1.5 million (about SEK 15 million) from the European Research Council for his research on new manufacturing paradigms for micro- and nanosystems. Now the researchers are working to refine the process on a larger scale, and they plan to develop a 3D printer that enables the creation of complex 3D silicon nanostructures. The next step is to commercialise the manufacturing technology in collaboration with partners from industry.

With such a tool, KTH Microsystem Technology wants to enable smaller companies and organisations to advance sensors and other technologies beyond multi-million markets currently addressed with MEMS fabs.

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